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Police abort raid on temple

Dec 12. 2016
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By PIYANUCH TAMNUKASETCHAI
THE NATION

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Latest deadline ditched as police wait for special personnel in bid to arrest Phra Dhammachayo

THE HIGH-PROFILE operation to arrest Phra Dhammachayo, the fugitive former abbot who has been ensconced in Dhammakaya Temple for months, has been aborted due to “lack of preparedness”, deputy national police chief Pol General Srivara Ransibrahamakul said yesterday.

Following a five-hour meeting to prepare for the raid that was scheduled for today, the latest deadline for the monk to surrender, Srivara said police still needed forensic science and technology personnel to ensure transparency if and when the case goes to court. The personnel would record evidence for the court in the event of resistance or obstruction during the raid.

Srivara declined to confirm if the operation would be conducted this week, saying it depended on the right timing. The court-issued search warrant authorising the raid is valid until December 16.

“During the operation … police will not use weapons, so prayers should keep praying and refrain from ‘acting like criminals’… The previous search attempt found many people there covered their faces [while blocking officers’ access]. I confirmed most officers were there to keep public order and prevent chaos by a third party,” Srivara added.

Dhammachayo is wanted on charges of money laundering and receiving stolen assets linked to the Klongchan Credit Union Cooperative (KCUC) embezzlement case.

Meanwhile, DSI deputy spokesman Woranan Srilam refuted nine separate accusations by followers at Dhammakaya Temple in Pathum Thani. 

Woranan said the DSI agreed with temple followers that they did not want to see violence during this special time period following the late King’s death and the ascension of the new King, and again urged Dhammachayo to surrender. 

He said DSI investigators had not pressed charges of soliciting donations against followers who had raised more than Bt1 billion to return to the cooperative as compensation. 

He said investigators were working on money-laundering charges, which were criminal offences against individuals that could not be compounded. He said most people involved had clarified their positions except for the temple’s monks, who had failed to meet investigators.

Woranan responded to a second accusation that police had charged Dhammachayo with forest encroachment of public property in Nakhon Ratchasima based on the opinion of an unreliable witness. He said the witness, who was fired from the civil service, was in the process of appealing to the Merit System Protection Commission. 

The witness was an expert in reading aerial photographs and was in the process of renewing his licence, Woranon said, adding that the testimony was only part of the evidence that led to the prosecution.

Budget waste concern

Responding to a third accusation, Woranan said that the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission temporarily suspended the Dhammakaya Media satellite TV channel upon the DSI’s request without calling a hearing. He said the DSI found the broadcast could lead to disorder and the temple could appeal the regulator’s decision. 

On a fourth accusation, he said the DSI and police did not bully followers as officers had performed their legal duties, which if neglected could lead to the officers’ punishment.

Woranan said a fifth concern that the 3,000-member operation would cause conflict and lead to resistance from Buddhists worldwide was unfounded. He said the actual raid would use much less manpower and officers would not use weapons, while other officers would guard worshippers from harm, including potential chaos caused by unnamed third parties.

He agreed with a sixth claim of budget waste and the seventh claim that the operation should not occur during the special time period. He urged Dhammachayo to surrender to face justice. 

He said the DSI would carefully formulate an action plan to alleviate concerns from the global Buddhist community about the “potentially violent operation against monks”. He also warned that Buddhist organisations should be careful not to intervene in Thailand’s internal affairs.

On a final point about officers’ attitudes, Woranan said officers had been objective. He said the DSI was investigating people who allegedly attempted to incite resistance in a manner likely to cause disturbances. 

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